In his own words, lead singer Pete Quirk states, “I didn’t even think we’d make a second record, let alone be writing a fourth record.”
Their old sound took the folksy minimalism to an extreme. There was not a whole lot of musical variety in each song, which usually focused on one guitar riff for too long. Of the selection that the band itself seems to promote, they all went on for about a minute or two too long. Even the choruses were not really chord changes, but a modulation of the original riff and instead of the crooning croaks of the lead singer, he will play a simple riff on a harmonica or melodica. That being said, the high levels of repetition make is so that each contributing member has a distinct, easily identifiable musical “personality.” You know which guitar parts were done by Quirk because they sound so incredibly different from the rapid style of Derek Fudesco. Additionally, in light of the repetition, the changes that do come are likely to grab your attention. The music will keep you engaged, but doesn’t mind if you drift off. Some of the most interesting note choices the guitarist makes, come in is his decision to NOT change notes when the ear anticipates it, almost as if he is saying, “Yeah, I know you’ve been listening to this four second riff for two minutes. Here it is again.”
Let it be stated for the record: The riffs are very good, and when you first hear them one might think, “Wow, how did he do that? That’s really good.” However, after four minutes of nothing but that riff, your mind memorizes, internalizes and regurgitates that riff until you are left thinking, “How is he allowed to still do that? They did four albums of that?” It gets stuck your head, but for all the wrong reasons. There is an incredibly frustrating point in the Naomi’s single, “Have to Pretend,” where after two minutes of the same riff, the band plays a different chord for one measure. This is cut off by Quirk who says, “too soon,” and they go right back to the same thing. The next time they make a change? When the song ends.
To be fair, Naomi takes a much needed, albeit small, step away from this song format. While it hasn’t been entirely abandoned, songs like “Week to Week,” “Early Moon,” and “Easy Way” do include some guitar variety. Quirk still puts his heart and soul into every note he sings, and while I can’t understand a word he says, it is nice to listen to. And in the songs in which the band does default back to the hypnotizing riff repeats, the addition of bassist Morgan Henderson provides some variety and differentiation. (Although try not to mention to them that it’s generally supposed to be the other way around…)
If you hear this band via CD first, you will be pleasantly charmed by them, under the mental assumption that this (before the introduction of the bassist) is a two piece band. If this was a two piece band, it would be something worth paying attention to. The Northwest response to the Black Keys. Sadly, what the Black Keys accomplish with two members, requires three, but more recently, four Cave Singers, and they still don’t quite measure up to Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. On the other side of the spectrum, The Lumineers accomplish the same simple, folksy, charm while providing more variety for the ear in half the time. They started out as a two piece as well.
The music is perfect for a long drive. It is a band that you and your dad could find some common ground on, especially for a road trip. Their slightly softer, clean sounding new studio album might encourage you to take a peek at their live show, but you may encounter some disappointment in discovering how many people it takes to make such a simple song.
In general, if you went onto iTunes or Amazon and just listened to the sample of the song three times in a row, you would have the whole song. I might go as far as to say that even within listening to the sample once, you might get a little bored.
Simple instruments and passion are good things in my book. I am usually the one to defend it whenever someone goes on a hipster bashing tirade. I don’t know to what degree I would stick my neck out for The Cave Singers. Just like it is hard to defend rap that talks about beating women and semen, it is hard to defend one-chord indie folk music. This is my first introduction to the Washington based band, and from what I understand, their previous endeavors included a lot of abnormal musical instrument choices. Some of their previous song arrangements called for all three members to play a different percussive tool. On their website is a video featuring the band as a trio. In the song titled “Haller Lake,” drummer Marty Lund uses just his feet, two tiny shakers, and a plastic red cup. This kind of creative spirit in the face of simplicity is refreshing and definitely a reason to keep an eye out for them on festival line-ups, but there is the underlying assumption that someone will go out of their way to uncover those quirky innovations after hearing a song that repeats itself over and over again. What these boys really need, is someone to remix their songs, cut them up and splice them together to provide some much needed variety.
Depending on the tightness of your orange or purple jeans, the bushiness of your ironic mustache, the number of PBR’s consumed, and thickness of your retro-specs, The Cave Singers could range from anywhere between a 7.7/10 and a 5.3/10.